Anyone having spent extended periods of time in Italy is highly likely to come away with a great many stories about the constipated bureaucracy, the goofy way Italians drive (or park), and the rigid adherence to unrecorded and incomprehensible food “law” that Italians invoke when you try to serve them fruit in a lettuce salad.
Here’s a hint for you folks wanting to survive the impending economic crisis. If you want to get rich, all you need to do is to attend a couple of semesters of writing school, then, with the wit and humor you’ve studied, write down the Italian stories you’ve collected and have someone bind them up. Soon, a third of the world (the part with money) will be beating a path to your Amazon page. No kidding. It won’t be long. Why? Because like you, they share your obsession. They want to live in Italy. Gloriously.
It’s all about Italy as luscious dichotomy, a gloppy, gooey, hard-to-comprehend center from which your spoon can hardly escape, gussied up with a dusting of chocolate and no fewer than three perfect cherries crowning the whole assemblage.
The problem is, pretty much every writer goes for the cherries, the easy stuff that rolls off the keyboard like, well, the cherries on melting gelato. “Then my dinner was ruined after I was required to spend 7 hours in an office inside a pink building (what’s up with all the pink in Italian buildings?) arguing with three enormous, bickering women who debated endlessly over the commas in my application for a fishing license before walking out on me in the middle of a sentence and then I came home to find one of those little Fiat things parked smack in the rosebushes and brushing against the tomatoes which I had to throw out because who knows what Italians have hit with those banged-up bumpers of theirs but you know it can’t be things that reasonable people eat.” You see, it’s easy for a writer to set himself up as God and make fun of the peasants. You, the reader, are left high and dry—to ponder on your own the conundrum that doesn’t yet have a resolution: Why do we want to live in such a dysfunctional and capricious society, the members of which seem to be bent on killing each other in tiny red cars driven way too fast on roads that cost a fortune to drive upon?
This is where we get back to Linda Falcone. She has published not one but two excellent books on Italy based on her Italian Culture and Customs columns at The Florentine, an English language newspaper and web site you should be visiting if you are enamored with Florence.
Ms. Falcone is unlikely to be rich because her books are not just about the cherries; she’s less about playing God than playing the clever and observant wallflower. Her stories burrow into the gooey center of things Italian, right down to the sticky essentials concerning the way Italians form connections to social institutions and to each other through language. She educates the reader in bite-sized, entertaining bits centered around a single, oft-heard phrase at a time, in wonderful vignettes that give you a glimpse into the Italian character with a clarity of vision that just, well…it floors me if truth be known. (Yes, I’m jealous.)
The publisher should offer a money back guarantee that if you don’t end up admiring the Italian spirit that finds a direct route to the pecorino at the end of the Italian social labyrinth after reading these books, you get double your money back.
In any case, if you think you love Italy and want to know more about how Italians have built the society we tend to be so darned enamored (and often frustrated) with, then you must read Linda Falcone’s books: Italians Dance and I’m a Wallflower, and the latest: If They Are Roses. Both are delicious examinations of what it is to be Italian and to live with Italians. I can’t recommend them enough. They are spot on. Yes, as far as I have experienced Italy, everything Linda Falcone writes is true.
The conundrum, though, remains. In the last paragraph of the introduction to “if they are roses” Ms. Falcone takes a great stab at the whys of it:
What would life be with nothing to overcome? Resolution is often over-rated. Give me discovery, inconformity, struggle and truce. Give me a good word to follow. And by all means, give me a road that leads to Italy.
Yes, yes, and yes. Now I know why I’m here and loving it—and why people afraid of life’s twists and turns (and who would vote for someone to lead them who hasn’t ever traveled) hate it.